Monday, 19 October 2015

E.R. Punshon

Technology has its downsides, but one of its great benefits has been that technological advances in publishing have made it possible for a host of once obscure, and often unobtainable old books to become available again, at modest prices. Yes, the quality of those books is variable, but far better to read the occasional dud than not be able to check out the work of interesting writers. Recent months have seen a host of books, and indeed publishers, make their presence felt, and some of the authors concerned are certainly new names to me - an example is J.C. Lenehan, a minor Golden Age novelist whose work I have yet to sample.

E.R. Punshon is another to have benefited. I've talked about Punshon's books several times on this blog, as well as in The Golden Age of Murder, and I've mentioned his interest in social issues of his time, as well as the sometimes startling variability in quality of his work. He had a long writing career, though his hey-day was certainly in the Thirties, when Dorothy L. Sayers reviewed him very generously, and he was elected to membership of the Detection Club. I've even been lucky enough to find his Death of a Beauty Queen (one of his better books), with a splendid Detection Club-related inscription written in his rather spidery hand.

Fender Tucker's small press, Ramble House, has been publishing Punshon titles for a few years now, and Dictator's Way and Diabolic Candelabra are worth checking out. Their latest titles are both extremely interesting. Bobby Owen, Black Magic, Bloodshed and Burglary is a collection of short stories, which I look forward to reading. Punshon's recurrent weakness was verbosity (cunningly reflected in the book's title!), and the demands of the short story form no doubt provided a good discipline for him.

Documentary Evidence is an exceptionally rare "dossier" novel originally published under the name Robertson Halkett. And Six Were Present is the last of the Bobby Owen police stories, posthumously published in the Fifiies. All these books benefit from introductions by Gavin L. O'Keefe. I haven't mentioned Gavin before on this blog, but he is a talented chap - not only a researcher and writer but also an artist whose artwork adorns the covers of countless Ramble House books. There is a fun aspect to Ramble House's list (who else would publish the complete works of Harry Stephen Keeler?) that is extremely engaging.

I'm also a fan of Dean Street Press, masterminded by Rupert Heath, a well-known literary agent (several agents are moving into publishing, an interesting development that I'll talk about here one of these days.) DSP publish a wide range of books, including cricket books and detective stories by Tim Heald, a fine writer who unfortunately is not in the best of health just now. DSP have also done Golden Age enthusiasts proud, with an extensive series of reprints introduced by Curtis Evans, including plenty of Punshon titles, such as the excellent Information Received and Mystery of Mr Jessop.

I'll be discussing some of these Punshon books in more detail in due course, but in the meantime, I like to imagine how thrilled Punshon would have been in his later years, when he was still writing, but for a pretty small readership, to know that his books would enjoy a fresh life in the twenty-first century. For all technology's downsides, it gives us a great deal to delight in..  

8 comments:

Fender Tucker said...

E.R. Punshon IS a little wordy in his Bobby Owen novels, but unlike many other writers of his time who used those unnecessary paragraphs for atmosphere or self-indulgence, Punshon always pads with stuff that actually enhances the plot. Or at least our knowledge of Bobby's thought processes.

Gavin L. O'Keefe said...

Martin, thank you for this fine posting about E. R. Punshon! Of course I'm immensely flattered by your comments about my work (thank you!) and the books that Fender and I reprint at Ramble House - E. R. Punshon's books being amongst our favourites. But, mostly, thanks for letting people know that Punshon's books are being reprinted by Ramble House and Dean Street Press. I agree with you that Punshon would have been thrilled to know that there was a new audience for his mysteries growing in the 21st Century. May that readership continue to grow!

scott herbertson said...

I rate the Carter and Bell series highly as entertainments - one of the earliest pairings of policemenin police procedural a I would he thought. it would be nice to see a uniform edition of these available.

Martin Edwards said...

Fender, Gavin, great to hear from you, and congratulations on all you've done to bring so many fascinating authors of the past within reach of present day readers.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Scott. Sayers agreed with you, and I do have the Carter and Bell Omnibus, though I must confess I have yet to read it. Perhaps I should accelerate it up the TBR mountain...

Graham Powell said...

I used to live not too far from the Ramble House house, in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, though I didn't meet Fender until after I'd moved to Texas. By keeping authors like Joel Townsley Rogers and Hake Talbot in print he's performing a valuable public service.

Martin Edwards said...

Couldn't agree more, Graham. I only wish my late father, a great Keeler fan, had lived long enough to see the rise of Ramble House.

Nan said...

I'm on my fourth Bobby Owen book. I really think he is wonderful. I'm reading what is available via kindle. You are so right about technology. I've read all the Hildegarde Withers series by Stuart Palmer, and the Napoleon Bonaparte series by Arthur Upfield, and a few Michael Gilberts on my little device. Such treasures.